Depressing Month for the Green Car Business?

Well, there was a good deal of what might be called bad news for the green machine industry in the past month. It’s a glass half full, half empty scenario. So let’s start with one item of good news.

  • Tesla Motors made a radical announcement – launching the Supercharger EV charging station for its Model S sedan. According to product planner Ted Merendino, Tesla was disappointed with the technology on the market – J1772 and other versions – and decided to go its own way with an all-in-one charger. The Supercharger can support everything from the average household 110 volt plug all the way up to its 90 kW DC charger. The 30 minutes quick charge offers an additional 150 miles of range.
  • Nissan has had a particularly dismal period of time in recent months where more data is being collected on premature battery aging and lost range for its Leaf electric car, particularly in hot states like Arizona. Nissan is asking owners for help, and has formed a task force for feedback. The company has also been named in a federal court class action lawsuit in Northern California, where the plaintiff claims Nissan North America lied about the range:

“Before purchase or lease, Nissan failed to disclose its own recommendations that owners avoid charging the battery beyond 80% in order to mitigate battery damage and failed to disclose that Nissan’s estimated 100 mile range was based on a full charge battery, which is contrary to Nissan’s own recommendation for battery charging,” the Nissan Leaf battery class action lawsuit says.

There was also some sad news about Mark Perry, director of product planning and advanced technology, and spokesman for the Nissan Leaf, announced his retirement from Nissan. A company spokesman says it’s been planned for months, but it’s probably a corporate maneuver to shuffle the deck during a time when sales are down for the car compared to its first year on the market, and there’s legal, technical, and public image messes to clean up. Perry was with the company for 25 years, but he looks too young and enthusiastic to have voluntarily retired.

  • Toyota is taking a very conservative approach to electric vehicles. Only the eQ electric compact (based on its iQ model) will be launched in the near future – in Japan and the US with a very limited initial sales target of 100 units to fleets. And it will cost about $45,000 with limited range. So, it looks like only the RAV4 Electric and eQ for Toyota, at least for now. If you exclude EVs, the news can be seen as good — hybrids and a fuel cell vehicle that will be launched in 2015. Hybrids are increasingly important to the company – 21 new hybrid models will be coming out in the next three years.
  • The Congressional Budget Office wants to see the feds cut tax incentives of plug-in electric vehicles. There’s concern it’s a waste of money, and could be cancelled out by provisions in the 54.5 mpg fuel economy standard giving low-mileage vehicles (trucks, SUVs, etc.) a piece of the pie.
  • Fisker Automotive had good and bad days. Celebrity endorsements and publicity are strong (thanks to kid pop star Justin Bieber and movie icon and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio. Investors are still coming through, with another $100 million just being announced. The bad news is that Consumer Reports tweaked the product. The Karma scored low in its tests, with a prominent complaint being the car’s battery pack failing within the first 200 miles. There’s plenty to like about the luxury plug-in hybrid sports car, but Consumer Reports wants to see a few problems fixed.
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